No, I Could Never Forget

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Non, Je n’ai rien oublie

(No, I could never forget.)

Back in 1972, I bought an album Aznavour sings Aznavour: Charles Aznavour is a French Singer/Songwriter and from this album in particular, Song

(as per my title) I find very “moody”. The story below is my free-ranging adaptation of what may have been the story behind the song. With apologies to M. Aznavour

* * * * *

As I finished crunching the week’s numbers, Pierre came across with a fresh coffee, placing it on the end of the bar where I had been working. We nodded at each other at this daily routine. I looked past him at the crowd in the front area, raising my eyebrow at him.

“Yes, Rick, I’ll get them out now.” And he went across with their bill in hand, inviting them to leave as we were closing at midnight. I waited, just in case they got even rowdier or started to give him shit. I knew he kept a truncheon in a special pouch on his left trouser leg, but this time, they were jovial, and gave him no trouble, each handing over more money than we needed so that the 80-Euro tab was easily taken care of and their leader brushing off Pierre’s attempts to hand the excess back. I could hear them, even from across the bar.

“Nah Mate, don’t bovver. We’ve had a great time, but I guess we’re all pissed enough to wanna get our heads down!” Somebody muttered something, probably obscene, and they all laughed loudly. I suspect it was something to do with a sexual position. The young couple sitting at the bar, nearer to me had their heads together, but had been ‘nursing’ his beer and her Pellegrino for the last hour. I wondered what their story was?

Then I noticed that Pierre was moving towards them, but for some reason – and don’t ask me why – I indicated to him that I would take care of them. I moved behind the bar, to be directly opposite them. I knew they were also English having overheard them earlier. They looked a bit bashful as I approached.

“Hey guys. Hate to do this, but we’re closing up now, so I’ll need you to settle up and move on. I know the weather’s lousy; this drizzle really gets in your bones, doesn’t it?” The girl flushed slightly as the man – boy really – fetched into his back pocket for some cash. A small leather wallet appeared in his hand, and as he ruffled through it, the girl whispered to him “Have you got enough?” He nodded, scrolling through a few Euro notes, as he slowly peeled off a twenty, before handing it over to me.

Clearly, he was not happy with his position as I stood opposite him. Again, don’t ask me why, but before I took it from him, I looked at both of them, quickly. “Are you both okay?” At this, the girl teared up and tried to hide her face while he put an arm around her and squeezed her to his shoulder.

“Do you know of a very cheap hotel nearby, please?” was his pained question. Christ, I must be a bloody old fool, but I had to ask what had shot to the front of my brain.

“I may do, but I guess it depends on how much you’ve got. There’s economy, there’s cheap, and then there’s some real shitty places that I would not recommend to you. How much do you want to pay? Or, maybe I should say, what can you afford? You look a bit desperate to me.” And then it all came out.

“I only have about sixty Euros on me. You see, we got in on the Eurostar this afternoon; we kind of left London in a rush as her Dad was after us, and he’s a big bugger that wouldn’t mind beating the crap outta me.” He looked at her and again, she teared up with drops of tears falling down her cheek. Pierre coughed discreetly at my shoulder.

“Monsieur Rick. I have to leave now. Do you want any help here?”

“No Pierre, it’s okay. I’ll deal with these guys; you go on home, and I’ll see you in the morning. We should have that delivery from Marcel’s coming in about ten, okay?”

‘Oui, Rick”. He looked relieved and shrugged his coat on as he turned to move into the cafe proper and towards the front door. “I’ll put the lock on the door for you.” And in seconds he was out the door and gone off into the misty evening.

I turned back to the couple; the boy was wiping her eyes with a big handkerchief and holding her close; I heard him whisper “It’ll be okay Luv. Stop worrying.”

Just call me an old sap, but I felt for them. “Look, you clearly don’t have enough money. Sit here, and let me make a call.”

I turned to the back of the bar, and picked up the phone, dialing an old friend. “Louise. Bonsoir cherie. I’m sorry to call so late, but do you have a spare room for a couple who are sitting here, tonight?”

She and I ‘go back some’ and over the years I have managed to steer tourists her way. She manages a small ‘Pension’ – one of the smaller hotels in the area with just six rooms. Very much ‘old-style’ French accommodation.

“Oui, Rick, I do have one spare room. It’s halkalı escort at the top but quiet. Have they got much luggage to carry up the four flights?”

I told her to hang on, and turned to the couple. “Do you guys have much luggage?” Now embarrassed, they both shook their heads, the girl indicating a back-pack on the floor. I turned back to Louise.

“No Cherie. They are, let’s say, ‘Travelling Light!’ Can you take them in?”

“Yes Rick, of course, but do they have money?” Clearly the first thing any hotelier would ask. I looked at them both, still nursing the Pellegrino.

“Take them in, and put it on a tab for me; I’ll see you in the morning when I know more, and pay you then for tonight okay?” She came back to me immediately.

“You’re not doing your Sir Galahad thing again, Rick?” I murmured that No, I felt they were in trouble, and I just wanted to help out. I’d sort them out and clear everything in the morning. She “kiss-kissed” on the phone and hung up, asking them not to be too long; she wanted to get to close up and get to bed also.

They had both heard me, of course, and the boy started to say that I shouldn’t worry about them, but I held a hand up. “I don’t know what your story is, but Louise runs a clean, efficient house; I’ll pick up your tab for tonight, but maybe you can briefly tell me your story?” Obviously relieved that they could get a warm bed for the night, they both gushed, overloading each other until I again held my hand up, looking this time at the girl. She was suddenly braver than her demeanor would indicate. It could have been my story with variations,

“As Jim said, we left London in a rush today. We were close to Kings Cross and grabbed some tickets on Eurostar, wanting to simply get away from my Dad. He’s been an absolute bastard about our relationship. You see, Jim is a pianist, and plays in bars and joints at night. He makes good money, but my father thinks he’s not worthy of me. He wants me to marry someone of ‘position and name’ and he was threatening to break us up forcibly if necessary.” She stopped to dab at her eyes again, and Jim took over.

“Is your name Rick? Are you the owner of this place?” I nodded at him. Yep, this was my place, indicating that he should go on. “Well Rick, I really love this girl, and she loves me but I don’t have money to offer her a flash life – at least, not yet. I’m a good pianist, I love Jazz and in fact, a friend in London had mentioned this bar, and that you have good sessions here, most of the week.’ He looked around at the obviously very quiet room; “You DO hold jazz sessions here?” His question was obviously aimed at me.

“Well, we do, but Paris has had some troubles over the last year – Charlie Hebdo, and now these idiot Muslim fanatics shooting all and sundry, so business has been a bit slow, although we’re getting into more customers coming back. My pianist, a German guy would usually be here, but he’s gone back to Berlin as his Mom’s not well. He’ll be back in a week or so, I believe.” I looked at their expectant faces. “Look guys, I know what you’re thinking, but let’s get into tomorrow; come back for breakfast about 11:00 and we can chat, okay?” I paused, needing to think through what I was clearly offering, without any offers on the table. “Let’s talk then. You guys go and have a nice night; love each other and sleep well, and I’ll see you in the morning!”

I led them to the front door, and stepped out indicating that they should follow the street ahead and the hotel – La Maison Blanche – is on the right-hand side, about 200 meters down. “Ask for Louise and she’ll take care of you.” As we got to the sidewalk, the girl reached up on her toes and kissed my cheek.

“Rick. We can’t thank you enough. We’ll see you in the morning.” And then they skipped away into the drizzle.

It was then that I noticed her. She was standing across the road under the street-lamp, her umbrella throwing a large shadow over her, so that her facial features were hidden. I stopped and looked across at her, and a shiver ran up my spine; she spoke, across the space between us.

“Rick. Is that you?” I froze. Even after 22 years I knew that voice immediately.


* * * * *

I was born in New York City, but lived my life mostly up in Connecticut. My father had insisted that my mother received the best that his millions could buy, and so she had made the trip to New York, which she hated by the way, but he was such a dominant person that she had acquiesced to his statements about where his “Son clearly a very successful one and who needed to prove it to ‘those lesser mortals’ every day. At 6’4” he ruled his office and staff with a continually aggressive attitude; how the hell his clients tolerated him I wasn’t sure, but I guess he made them şişli escort a lot of money so, they just let him loose and happily took the dividends he provided, either annually or quicker, if he felt like being generous.

How my mother put up with him, I don’t know. My sister had been born in ’74 and was the complete opposite to me. Slight of stature and highly intelligent she excelled at schools – in fact she excelled at everything she undertook; great for her, but making me look even more of a ‘loser’ than I already was. I failed academically in most of the sciences, with mathematics and algebra being as if I were from an alien planet, not understanding a damned thing.

If X equals Y, what does Z make?

I hadn’t a fucking clue, and cared even less!

But, I took to the music classes with a gusto, piano particularly becoming almost a life-saver for me. I spent hours in the music room at my high school and began to be dated by some of the more desirable chicks as I found that almost nothing was beyond my ability; jazz, boogie-woogie (the old-fashioned type from WW2), and even the smooth jazz regimes which were popular then, coming in from South America. The girls seemed to love me, possibly not for me, myself, but I could sure entertain them – and their boyfriends – most weekends. I’d hang out in some local clubs who welcomed ad-hoc jam sessions, and who actually paid me quite well. I loved it!

I’d lost my virginity one Saturday night after a really cool session with some of the best players in town; everybody loved me!

Except my dad!

My grades had not been great as I scraped through some of the academics. He wanted me to become a Banker or a Lawyer, like him, and my wishes couldn’t have been more polar-opposite. It all came to a head in 1990. I’d managed to finally graduate from high school at 18, but my joy was devastated as my mother died that very same week. He and I were both shattered, but in different ways. He took himself off to New York city after the funeral and I was left at home with my younger sister and a spinster aunt who moved into the house to look after us. Supposedly. But dad’s generous expenses for her to do her duties, soon had her partying away with some dubious characters.

And, I learned later, he wasn’t exactly the saint that he’d painted himself, because when he moved back home after his sister-in-law ran through a couple of thousand bucks and he booted her out, he brought a really cute “Secretary” with him…

Hey! Whatever!

It all came to a head one evening. Tempers flared when the cook had screwed up one of his favorite dishes and on being questioned heavily about “What are you going to do with your life son?” I had replied that I wasn’t going to ‘do’ anything; certainly not going to any university! My mom had left me a sizeable endowment and I was itching to ‘see the world’ and I’d booked a flight earlier, to Paris with Pan Am. He could ‘stick it where the sun don’t shine!’

He’d bellowed and cussed and many words were exchanged which surely didn’t help our relationship, but in disgust, he’d shouted “Then take yourself off, but don’t come begging back here!”

I never did. Only two years later, he’d had a heart attack while in bed with his mistress – I’d swear that she’d fucked his brains out for the loot – but she was disappointed, as his will didn’t include her at all, and my sister and I (I’d returned for the funeral) reached an agreement to pay her off, with an amount that kept her quiet and smiling! Meanwhile, I had found a steady gig in Paris at a fashionable night-club and I’d honed my skills – in piano, languages and sex!

Sex mostly! Hell, I was 22 – and American – which I think helped my bedding down of “Les Mademoiselles!”

Although the night-club gig was a good money-earner, I spent my spare time, working just off Rue de Sevres at a small bar, the Le Petit Bistro. The atmosphere was greater than the club where I brought in the cash, and Giles could pull in a good crowd most weekends. I’d saunter over there after “work” and met with some great guys and girls, enjoying life to the full.

Then she came into my life. Tall, willowy with a mane of red hair, her green eyes flashed at me up on the band-stand; She was super-cool (I learned later it was all a scam; she admitted she was nervous as all hell, and had been brought into the bar by a friend) but I was glad to say that the ‘vibes’ between us, were simply electric. We were lovers within a week and I had never felt so comfortable before with any girl.

* * * * *

“I saw your MGB outside, and knew this was the place. It’s been so long and I’ve been away, mostly in Switzerland, and worried that I could never find the place again. I can’t believe you’ve kept it; it looks just like when we were together.”

I hesitated, looking over her shoulder sarıyer escort at my mustard-colored “B” parked a few feet down the side road, where I’d always parked. “Well, yes, I’ve always loved the car as it held so many memories of you, for me, after you’d left, and I’ve had no need to sell. But, I have a secret.” She glanced up at me, now standing in the doorway and cocked her head at that angle that I remember so well.

“I sent it back to a specialist in England about three years ago and had him restore it back to original; it’s actually a new body with my original engine and fittings…” I trailed off, looking at her, still not believing that she almost hadn’t changed. He hair was pulled up in a chignon, swept off her face, and as she rolled up the brolly – I took it from her and stood it in the barrel inside the door – I stepped back so that she could sidle through the narrow entrance.

“How long have you been standing there?” I asked.

“Oh, only about half an hour. I had meant to come in earlier, but was nervous. I’d looked through the window and saw you down the end of the bar, but there was this crowd at the front and a waiter appeared, serving them. I simply couldn’t pluck up the courage.” She smiled, seemingly embarrassed, and I held out my arms to her. She came into my embrace and held me around the waist. I spoke again.

“You little fool. You could have caught your death of cold out there. Will you come on in and let me make you some coffee? Or, would you prefer tea, or a Sambuca to warm you up?” I led her into the warmth of the bar and closed the inner door, after locking the outer.

“I saw you with that young couple; were you guiding them to a hotel?”

I looked at her, nodding ‘Yes’ at her question, and took her coat, ushering her to the sofas alongside the dying fire, which I revived quickly by turning on the gas-jets which blazed immediately, lending a glow to her as she settled into the sofa. “I could use a coffee, actually, though maybe a Cafe au Lait please. I think it’s too late in the day for an espresso!”

I knelt down beside her before getting the coffee. “Do you have to go? Are you in town long? It’s been so long since we last talked, we must catch up.”

“Actually, I am back in Paris for good now. I have a long story, so if you have the time, let’s have some coffee, and do just that; catch up with each other.”

I moved back to the bar area, and started the brewing of the coffee machine. I tried desperately to remember how she liked hers, the years falling away in seconds as I sneaked glances at her. She had turned to face the now blazing fire and the glow lent a magical aura to her. I watched as she leant back into the sofa and closed her eyes. Was she crying?

Within a couple of minutes, I had the two Cafe Americain coffees poured into the large breakfast cups we usually kept for the early-morning crowd; somehow, it seemed appropriate. Moving around the bar to her, I pulled a small table to us and placed the cups on it. I sat opposite her. “I hope this is as you like it.” She smiled at me, but I could tell it was a smile tinged with sadness.

“Are we alone?”

“Yes. Pierre has gone. We’re closed – in fact we close most nights more towards 1.a.m, but it’s been a bit slow since the attacks, although I’m glad to say that our regulars are drifting back. I usually run some evenings with jam-sessions of jazz, and a couple of nights in a month I’ll have a special session with invited musicians; then, we’re packed out, I’m glad to say – at least, my accountant is pleased to say!” She smiled again, and I saw the genuine smile from so long ago that had caused me to fall in love with her.

God! Now, it seemed like only yesterday.

She sipped her coffee, and nodded as I looked pointedly at her, silently seeking her approval. “Yes, it’s just as I remember it.” I nodded with pleasure, but the silence that lasted only a few seconds fell between us. I simply didn’t know what to say, so I looked at her, with a million memories flooding my brain. She spoke again.

“It’s been a long time Rick.” I couldn’t agree more. She finished the coffee and placed the cup back on the table. “How have you been? You own this place now? Are you married? Tell me about yourself.” I too finished my cup and used the time to replace it and think how – and what – I should tell her.

“I’ll give you a brief overview of where I have been, and what I’ve done, but first, I guess I must ask the same of you. I guess you are divorced. Do your parents regret that’s not what they intended?” She smiled sadly, acknowledging that I was correct in my assumption.

“Well, my father died some years ago and my mother is sick, which is primarily why I have come back to Paris. I divorced my husband eight years ago, but I have a beautiful daughter who is my world. We have lived in Basel most of the time, because my dad had set Henri up there with a new company, although he gradually lost business all the time, eventually going bankrupt and drinking himself to death. Fortunately, my parents had set up a trust fund for me, finally realizing that Henri simply wasn’t the ‘man for the job’ and made certain that I would be taken care of, no matter what.

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